Hardline Israel faces a lonely future

Speaking on Israel’s Channel 10 News, Britain’s Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, surprised viewers with an uncharacteristically forthright warning: “Israel is now seen as the Goliath and it’s the Palestinians who are seen as the David.”

He maintained that the international community’s support for Israel is diminishing over the shelved two–state solution, colony expansion on the West Bank and the continuing blockade of Gaza. In 10 years time, he said, Israelis could wake up to find that the world will no longer tolerate the status quo.

If Israelis perceive Gould’s words as an attack, they’re wrong. A descendent of Polish Jews, he was proud to be Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel. He is no anti-Semite or self-hating Jew. He co-launched an appeal to aid Holocaust survivors and, in 1997, he hosted a conference to discuss the return of gold stolen from Jews by the Nazis to its rightful owners. Clearly, Gould is concerned enough about the future of the Jewish state to raise his head above the parapet to speak the truth as he sees it.

His message is backed-up by facts. The results of a British poll, published in the Jewish Chronicle last May, shows “Pro-Israeli sentiment in the UK has dropped from 25 per cent to 17 per cent in a decade.” While 64 per cent of those polled believe Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state, only 8 per cent blamed Palestinians for obstructing the peace process.

According to Gould, negative sentiments aren’t limited to the British public; he says he’s witnessed British MPs becoming more critical of Israel. Most Israelis may have little regard for British attitudes, dismissed as those of bleeding-heart left-wingers. but they deeply care about the trend in the US where Israel is also losing ground.

The April 18 issue of the Tablet, a daily online magazine that bills itself as “a new read on Jewish life,” highlights a conference, held in Bethlehem, attended by “leading lights from the evangelical community in North America and Europe.”

Evangelicals are traditionally fervent flag wavers for the Jewish state. On this occasion, however, “many of the speeches at the conference” blamed “the entire Middle East conflict on Israel’s occupation and the [colonies].” The report does stress that while the “vast majority of evangelicals still maintain” their support for Israel, “there is an increasingly heated debate in the evangelical community that may augur a shift in the political winds.”

Surely there is one community within the US that will always be unwaveringly pro-Israel—the American-Jewish community. Not necessarily, argues author and scholar Norman Finkelstein. In his book Knowing too much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is coming to an end, he contends that a new generation of Jews in America can no longer be counted upon to reflexively back Israeli policies and have begun to question whether Israelis are as liberally-minded as they once thought.

Finkelstein, whose mother survived a Nazi concentration camp, is persona non grata in Israel because of his vocal support for the Palestinian cause and, therefore, he may have an axe to grind. But the same cannot be said of former editor of the New Republic Peter Beinart, an orthodox Jew who has recently published a book, titled The crisis of Zionism. President Bill Clinton described it as “a deeply important book for anyone who cares about Israel . . .”

Pariah state

Like Finkelstein, Beinart believes young American Jews aren’t as connected to Israel or the pro-Israel lobby as their forefathers, opting to champion human rights, including those of Palestinians. Former Israeli prison guard and Jerusalem Post contributor Jeffrey Goldberg, currently with The Atlantic, concurs.

In an article, he condemned the Israeli prime minister for failing to grasp that Israel cannot maintain the occupation of the West Bank without becoming a pariah state and warns him not to be confused by the standing ovations he receives during AIPAC conferences as “AIPAC, at this point, represents the outlook of a minority of Jewish Americans, and certainly a minority of younger Jewish Americans.”

The Israeli government is not oblivious to the danger. Last year, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption sponsored ads in the US asking Israeli expatriates to return home and featured videos on its website rebuking Israelis who raise their children in America. Earlier the government launched a media campaign urging Jews not to marry outside their religion with a warning that doing so constituted “a strategic national threat” as “more than 50 percent of diaspora youth assimilate and are lost to us.”

It is of note that Mitt Romney’s recent ignorant remarks at an occupied Jerusalem fundraiser lauding Jewish culture as responsible for Israel’s economic success as opposed to the Palestinians’ poor economic showing, were attacked by Jewish groups in America.—and, surprise, surprise, one of Israel’s prime media cheerleaders, The New York Times, gave front page prominence to an op-ed by a Palestinian businessman, headlined “Occupation, not culture, is holding Palestinians back”

For now, Israelis can sleep tight in the knowledge that their superpower protector and benefactor won’t let them down. But as Gould and others who hold Israel close to their hearts believe, unless Israel’s government changes its hardline tack, a lonely future awaits.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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